Important week for secondary schools

0
393

By Jack Thomson

This week provides Scottish secondary schools with their annual analysis of examination results called STACS (Standard Tables And ChartS).

Don’t expect screaming headlines in your local paper about whether S4 pupils in your local school studying Latin (damn few of them!) are doing better or worse than might be expected, compared with pupils of similar overall ability across the rest of Scotland.

By Jack Thomson

This week provides Scottish secondary schools with their annual analysis of examination results called STACS (Standard Tables And ChartS).

Don’t expect screaming headlines in your local paper about whether S4 pupils in your local school studying Latin (damn few of them!) are doing better or worse than might be expected, compared with pupils of similar overall ability across the rest of Scotland.

The differences might be comparatively small, but can suggest to school staff that there are some of their pupils that they could do better with. In some departments, there may be a particular problem in reaching out to, and engaging with, particular groups – eg high ability girls, averagely performing boys etc etc.

That is actually what matters. Teachers looking at where there might be weaknesses in delivery, and taking steps to improve that.

STACS had its origins in 1991 – designed in Scotland for those working in Scotland – with precisely that intention. It has been developed and improved (and that has been an ongoing process) but now seems to have been released from the political manipulation by UK Tory and Labour Governments.

UK Tories seemed to be incapable of understanding that not all pupils have the same advantages as others, and might not do as well as them. They loved the idea of league tables which pretended to compare performance of schools in advantaged areas with those in areas of multiple deprivation.

Confirming that rich kids do better seemed a very clever idea to them. Alas, they simply labelled everybody else as failures. In England, both Tory and Labour governments have followed that same idea, and imagined that moving schools out of local government management would be the magic wand that transformed them. That might be described as the Cinderella version of education policy.

UK New Labour hijacked STACS in a different way. UK Labour was determined that setting external targets was the magic wand. As Olivander said to Harry Potter “The wand chooses the wizard… it’s not always clear why.”

I wouldn’t describe Brian Wilson as a wizard (Voldemort would be far too great a compliment – Wilson was only ever a minor demon) but his unquestioning acceptance of UK NuLab philosophy transferred itself to the first Scottish Government. The Education (Scotland) Act 2000 enshrined a management system into statutory obligation. There can be no greater condemnation of a totally empty philosophy. I won’t say RIP UK NuLab, because it deserves to rot in hell, with all of the elaborations painted by Hieronymus Bosch!

Fortunately, as Scotland started the process of disengagement from UK political thinking, Slab and SLib quietly ditched that idea, and the SNP (who had never opposed it) agreed. By the time of the second Slab/SLib coalition there was a general political consensus (except the Tories, but they don’t matter) that  improving education would occur when teachers and schools were given the tools to analyse their performance, and criticised for not being capable of self-evaluating their weaknesses, rather than for failing some arbitrarily set measures.

Which is where we came in, in 1991!

If it hadn’t been for the distortion of policy by UK Government’s over the last 20+ years (arguably 200 years), Scottish education would be further forward now.

Scottish education isn’t the best in the world but, freed from UK thinking, we are beginning to approach the world leaders like Finland and Australia.